The 2021 college football season is in the books and as the 2022 CFP National Championship game featured two SEC teams it only feels right to have one more piece on the best plays and the disasters from the game.
By Steve Wright
Congrats to Georgia, commiserations to Alabama, and here are three good things and three bad things from Monday night in Indy.
WORST – Jameson Williams’ injury
This one should have been obvious and is arguably the point where the destination of the trophy changed. The Crimson Tide were already shorthanded at wide receiver with Bryce Young having lost his most reliable target John Metchie to an ACL injury in the SEC Title game. That was 96 receptions, 1,142 yards, and eight touchdowns out of the lineup. Then – on a 40-yard gain that showcased his explosiveness – Jameson Williams went down without contact clutching his knee.
Williams – 75 catches for 1,507 yards, and 15 touchdowns on the season – was THE elite deep threat in college football. Without him on the field, the Georgia defense had no fear over the top and nothing ‘Bama did underneath was going to be open. That Nick Saban didn’t try to get Williams’ knee strapped and push him back onto the field (which the player wanted) says everything about his level of care for his players. It was a cruel way for Williams’ season to end and we can only hope the injury isn’t as bad as it looked at the time.
BEST – The emotion of Stetson Bennett
ESPN has a habit of laying it on a little thick with the human interest stories – just let sports be sports – but it was hard not to appreciate the raw emotion of Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett at the end of this one. Bennett – a walk-on who transferred away from the school to earn a scholarship to then go back – was at one point the fourth or fifth passer on the Georgia roster. Even heading into this season his perceived lack of arm strength and role as nothing more than a game manager was supposed to see USC transfer JT Daniels start ahead of him.
Bennett, however, if nothing is a fighter. He showed as much in this game after a terrible fumble while attempting a pass he never should have tried deep in his own half seemed to have Alabama set up to take over the game. Instead, Bennett led Georgia to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and his story was written.
WORST – Alabama rushing game
When Williams went down the Crimson Tide had managed 10 yards on 10 carries and they were suddenly without their two playmakers out wide. It got no better from there, with Alabama finishing the night with 30 yards on 28 carries. That is a touch misleading – Bryce Young was sacked four times for -43 yards which brings the total way down – but lead ‘Bama back Brian Robinson Jr. just couldn’t get free against a Georgia front seven that was mighty all night long.
Robinson rushed for 68 yards on 22 carries with a long run of 16 yards. There was no consistency in the rush that would allow Saban to lean on it and that resulted in third down fail after third-down fail. Young was asked to throw the ball 57 times – again without his best two targets in the second half – as the running game never got going.
BEST – Georgia rushing game (second half)
Georgia, on the other hand, really cranked up the power of their running game in the second half. The Bulldogs rushed for 140 yards on 30 carries with many of those yards coming late as they punished a tiring Alabama defense for hard yards up the middle. That 140 yards included -24 for Bennett on eight carries and -3 for Ladd McConkey on an end-around that was probably lucky not to result in a fumble as Will Anderson – who had a monster game was in the backfield so fast he almost took the pitch himself.
What Georgia did well was use the right running back at the right time. James Cook had a 67-yard scamper in the first half that looked like it might be a touchdown until the cover ran him down. In the second half – especially with a lead – it was a combination of Cook and Zeus White that took over. White was running with such anger and explosion it was a minor miracle any time he got tackled. Great situational play-calling from Kirby Smart and his team.
WORST/BEST – Brian Branch fumble recovery
I still have no idea what Bennett was trying to do throwing the ball, but it was very, very clear that Brian Branch had no idea it was a fumble and accidentally avoided a disaster for Alabama through the sheer luck of his foot being about half an inch inbounds as he picked up the ball out of habit as opposed to trying to make a play.
WORST – Agiye Hall drop
Games like this are won and lost on fine margins and the third-quarter drop of a perfect Young pass by freshman wide receiver Agiye Hall was one ‘Bama never recovered from. Hall – playing more and stepping up with Metchie and Williams sidelined – dropped a pass on third-and-11 that Young put in the perfect spot despite heavy blitz pressure.
A touchdown would have put Alabama up 16-6 at the time and would have allowed Saban to use scoreboard pressure and his renowned tactical decision-making to squeeze the life out of Georgia over the remaining quarter. Instead, ‘Bama compounded the mistake – which would have given them a first down inside the five-yard line – when kicker Will Reichard (who was very good on the night) had his 48-yard field goal blocked.
BEST – Kelee Ringo pick six
What a way to seal a first national title in 41 years. Alabama was down men and down points but Young had them moving down eight with under a minute to go. This is ‘Bama we are talking about. It was almost inevitable that Young would work some magic and find a way for the Crimson Tide to work their way into the end zone, make the two-point conversion, and then win in overtime.
Except it never happened.
Young – throwing with desperation for the first time in his ‘Bama career – overthrew his target and the ball stuck to the hands of defensive back Kelee Ringo. With Smart screaming at Ringo to slide to the ground or run out of bounds to end the play (and the game), Ringo had other ideas. He showed amazing speed to sprint 79 yards to the ‘Bama end zone for a pick-six, with numerous teammates blocking his way on the return. It was a play emblematic of Georgia’s entire season.